The Hotchkiss High School boys cross country team came to the 2A Region 4 championship race on a mission.
After finishing just short of qualifying for state last year, the Bulldogs ran all season with the intention of getting back to the state meet this weekend in Colorado Springs.
Mission accomplished. Hotchkiss placed three individuals in the top 15 of last Friday's regional race at Confluence Park to finish second overall and qualified for the state meet.
"It's really nice. We fell just barely short last year, and it's just a really good feeling to get to go back," Hotchkiss senior Gabe Rodriguez said after running the three mile course in 17 minutes, 43.05 seconds to finish 13th overall.
Hotchkiss was paced by Sam Rodriguez, whose time of 17:20.91 was good for ninth place. Senior Zack Allen was the third Top 15 finisher for Hotchkiss with his 14th place time of 17:46.36.
Mancos dominated the field and won with 15 points. Hotchkiss was second with 33 points.
"Coach told us about a week ago that we'd be battling for a spot. We never really came together as a team and said that we wanted to get second, but I think each of us were really thinking that we could do it," Rodriguez said. "And we just went out there and ran our best."
Hotchkiss also got strong runs from Nick Jung (20:30.25) and J.D. Miller (21:16.97), who will join the other Bulldogs at state.
"They did amazing. They did really good. I'm proud of them," Rodriguez said.
The win was especially satisfying for seniors Rodriguez and Allen.
"It's awesome. I've been doing cross country for five years now and it's just great to be able to get there at the end of the trip," Rodriguez said.
The boys cross country team from Paonia came up one place short of qualifying for the state tournament.
The top four teams from the regional race qualified for the state meet. Paonia finished fifth.
"I'm proud of my boys," Paonia coach Brandy Sparks said. "I wish they would have made it to state. You know what, we got our heads up and we're ready for next season."
Junior Caden Mielner led the Eagles on Friday afternoon, running the course in 17:32.51 to finish 10th overall and qualify for the state tournament for the second year in a row. The Top 15 individuals qualified automatically for state.
"Cade did amazing. Last year he was 13th and this year he was 10th, so he moved up some places this year," Sparks said. "He ran here faster this year than he did last year."
Paonia freshman Harley Ewert capped his standout first year with a 19th place finish (18:09.03). Senior Tim Helmer was next across the line for the Eagles in 18:51.99.
Ben O'Rourke (18:52.05), David Lozano (19:00.42) and Eli Etter (19:05.14) were the next three Eagles to finish the race.
Elijah Evans (19:09.29) and Hunter Norris (20:28.92) rounded out the Eagles contingent at the regional race.
"Even though they deserved a spot at state, you know what? Sometimes we have bad days and good days. I'm very proud of them," Sparks said. "And next year, we're going to get better and better and better. And next year we will take a guy's team to state. I guarantee you."
Ames Leads Delta
The Delta boys finished sixth as a team in the 3A Region 1 race also held at Confluence Park last Friday afternoon.
John Ames was the best Panther on the course, finishing 18th overall in 17:05.81. Garrison Paniagua was right behind him at 17:16.16, good for 20th overall.
Logan Freed (18:02.64), Shad Lewis (18:11.50), David Husman (18:27.87) and Caleb Williams (18:15.65) were the next Panthers to finish the run.
Elias Carlson (19:08.94), Isaac Vader (19:27.77) and Syni Lujan (19:54.01) rounded out Delta's boys team finishers at the race.